Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE PARISH PRIEST
"Then He said to them, 'The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves." (St. Luke 10:2-3)
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another." (St. John 15:16-17)
"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me." (St. John 15:20-21)
The priest who is chosen by God Himself to serve Him and His people is just a servant. A servant is always obedient to His Master and is aware that as servant he has no rights whatsoever. He follows the commands of His Master implicitly and with love. While union with Christ brings love, joy, and peace, it also brings the world's hatred and persecution. Our Lord's greatest enemies were His own people.
As young men raised in our Greek Orthodox communities we were called to serve our Lord as His priests. We went through four years of college and three years of theological studies at our Greek Orthodox Theological School in Brookline, Mass. and then were assigned to one of our parishes, usually as an associate priest for approximately three to five years to gain the necessary experience, and then given our own parish. According to our Orthodox Tradition once the priest was assigned to a parish it was for most of his life. In the authentic Orthodox Christian Tradition there are no parish councils, no politics, no adversaries to confront, no lay administrations who have the power "to hire and fire" a priest of the Church. In Greece, in Russia, in Bulgaria, in Romania, in Serbia, in Poland, in any Orthodox country that you may visit, there is no other head of the parish other than the priest of that parish. In Greece the priest may have a committee of seven pious men to assist him in various ways but without any so-called "authority" or "power". It is only here, in the US that the Archdiocese adopted the current system which is different than the traditional system of the Orthodox Church. However, the present system has created severe problems, pain and suffering for the parish priest and his family. The system for a long time was and, in some cases, still continues to be adversarial and confrontational. The parish council or parish was considered to be the "employer" and the priest the "employee". Disciplinary measures could be taken against the priest for reasons of disobedience to his bishop but disciplinary measures against the abusive layman was rarely taken. Therefore the priest and his family had to endure the humiliation, the threats, the expulsion from his parish, the abuse, the suffering, lack of respect, and other indignities inflicted upon him and his family. Over the years the local parish has hung pictures in hallways and offices of former priests that have served the local parish as though they are trophies from a hunting expedition. Case in point I am the eleventh priest to serve Saint Andrew.
We all understand that the local parish or the local Metropolis cannot function without the parish priest. It is true that the Church is comprised of clergy and laity and one cannot exist without the other. However, a parish can do without a number of parishioners but cannot function without that one man, the parish priest. The parish may be a prosperous parish with all kinds of beautiful buildings and place of worship but without the priest it is unable to exist and to function. We are not a Protestant congregational community where the lay run almost entirely the local church. The Protestant Minister himself is a lay-preacher. There is no priesthood in Protestantism and they do not have a hierarchical system.
As priests of the Church, we were not ordained to compete for power, authority or to involve ourselves with the destructive petty politics in the local parish. Most of us, upon graduating from the Seminary, were totally unprepared and naïve of what was like to serve a Greek Orthodox parish and the kind of people we were going to serve. For most of us it was a real awakening and shocking to find a hostile environment to say the least. But by the Grace of God we were able to overcome many of these challenges, obstacles and hostility. Even after 45 years in the service of the Lord and the Church, I still find it extremely hard to believe how people who profess to be Christians can treat their priest in such unchristian and uncivilized way. I hope that all of you know that all of us without exception will give accountability to the Almighty God at the Final Day and Judgment. The sad thing is that many of these mean-spirited and hateful individuals died before repenting and seeking forgiveness from their priest whom they had made to suffer.
Why is the parish priest indispensible? It is only the priest assigned to the parish that can conduct the Divine Liturgy and other holy services of the Church, it is the priest that will be asked to be present at the birth of a child to offer God's blessings, it is the priest that will give the Christian name to that child at the eighth day of his birth, it the priest that will welcome and bless the new mother and baby after forty days, it is the priest that will baptize that baby, it is the priest that will marry the young men and women of the parish, it is the priest that will be called to visit someone critically ill in the hospital, it is the priest that if a person dies will conduct the funeral service for that parishioner, and it the priest that is always lovingly willing to serve all the spiritual needs of his spiritual children throughout the year. There is no one else that can replace the priest and meet the spiritual needs of the Orthodox Christians in that parish.
Every priest that I know of is totally committed to the Lord with unconditional love for Him as is our Lord's love for us. Friendship is higher than servanthood. A servant who obeys his master is out of fear; a friend is a servant who serves his Lord out of love. Abraham was called a "friend of God" because he believed and obeyed God. The disciples and the saints are honored as friends of Christ and heirs of God. This is exactly what lay Christians and clergy must also be "friends of God" and brothers and sisters in Christ with only one objective to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." (St. Mark 12:30-31).
If the friendship and relationship is true than it must be based on honesty, love, respect and trust. Hypocrisy and deception has no place in a genuine relationship. Serving God and the Church is not about you but about Him, our Creator. Remain steadfast in the faith and pray that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will illuminate our souls and minds through the grace of the Holy Spirit so that we be "good and faithful servants." Amen.
With sincere agape in Christ,